On Aug. 5, 2005, NBA commissioner David Stern announced that, for the first time in league history, the sport’s biggest spectacle would take place in a non-NBA city. The 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend was set for Las Vegas and the Thomas & Mack Center. While the festivities were highly anticipated, that didn’t last long.
Now, 10 years later, there is plenty to reflect on with the event and, given that a decade has passed, we can look back with a combination of fondness and confusion as to what transpired.
“I don’t care if you were black or white, it was an intimidating environment. You always felt like anything was a possibility. And I don’t think white people saying that is an expression of racism. There was loud cussing, they were loudly using the N-word, smoking lots of marijuana, talking disrespectfully of anybody they felt like. You just felt like anything could happen.”
Jason Whitlock, then employed as a columnist for the Kansas City Star before moving on to other things, reflected on his time in ‘Sin City’ that weekend in the Las Vegas Sun.
The “anything could happen” vibe was recounted by various media members, fans and even players in reflecting on the game, especially through the lens of a crime increase unlike anything the NBA has been associated with over a three-day period.
Specifics vary based on source, but the consensus remains that more than 300 people were arrested over the course of the long weekend, with that number reflecting only the increase from an “average” weekend in Las Vegas. Beyond that, more than 100 fugitives of justice descended on Las Vegas and were apprehended, adding fuel to the fire.
Terry Lanni, then a chief executive for MGM Mirage Inc., told ESPN that “the gang-bangers and others who came for purposes other than attending the game, they weren’t very good for Las Vegas.” Furthermore, one of the gaming industry’s biggest fish flatly indicated that, if it was up to him, the NBA would not expand to the city, saying “Mr. Stern can keep his basketball franchises out of Las Vegas as far as I’m concerned.”
Still, there were unquestioned positives to the event and they began before the NBA world even descended on Nevada.
In the original announcement letting the world know that All-Star Weekend was coming, the league was already spinning the public relations aspect in an optimistic light:
Not all of the action will take place on the hardwood as the NBA will partner with schools and community-based organizations in Las Vegas and the surrounding areas to showcase the League’s on-going commitment to the community. Highlighting the NBA All-Star 2007 activities in the community will be the NBA All-Star Legacy Project and a series of events with current and former NBA and WNBA players reaching out to youth-serving organizations.
While the great majority of the focus was on the negative aspects of the non-basketball festivities, the league did follow through with good work in the community, and in the days since, the NBA has perhaps become even more well-known for its community involvement.
On the basketball floor, the weekend produced quite a bit of intrigue as well.
Kobe Bryant led the Western Conference to a 153-132 victory while being named the MVP, and before he was the “Black Mamba,” Bryant was outstanding with 31 points. On the East side, LeBron James (his name sounds familiar) finished with 28 points and the game was quite entertaining before a crowd of more than 15,000 in the Thomas & Mack Center. In fact, there was enough buzz surrounding the game itself that Las Vegas remains the title holder when it comes to the highest ticket price in event history (per Forbes), with an average cost of $2,546 for entry.
Before that, Gerald Green put forth a highly memorable performance in the Slam Dunk contest, outlasting both Nate Robinson and a baby-faced Dwight Howard to claim glory.
For good measure, a bizarre yet captivating foot race took place between TNT analyst Charles Barkley and NBA referee Dick Bavetta and the encounter also included something of an intimate moment between the two.
In short, there were many reasons to remember the Las Vegas weekend in a positive light, especially if you were not actually on the scene in the desert. For many, the basketball-only portion ranked up there with some of the best compilations that the league has ever put on in February and, for a brief moment in time, it looked as if the NBA – long before the NHL – would actually consider moving a team to Las Vegas full-time.
In fact, former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goldman told the Las Vegas Sun at the time that his chief motivation for hosting the event was to bend the ear of the commissioner on that very topic.
“The All-Star Game, as far as I was concerned, was a vehicle to get the commissioner to come to Las Vegas and talk with me. Now we’re in a position to see an NBA franchise. We’ve had no other discussion about a continuous All-Star Game.
Fast forward a decade and the notion of a Las Vegas NBA franchise generates little to no buzz. What happened? Well, aside from the league’s general health with 30 teams and the more obvious future destination in Seattle, the 2007 All-Star Game happened.
Headlines like “Weekend Violence Mars NBA All-Star Experience” are the most prominent memory of the event, and given the general PR backlash, the three-day period in February 2007 likely did (much) more harm than good when it came to presenting the city as a viable full-time home for professional basketball.
With that said, Las Vegas shouldn’t be judged based on one weekend that felt like a perfect storm.
The most prominent athlete associated with trouble during that time was NFL cornerback Adam Jones, not anyone associated with the league directly. The NHL isn’t quite as prominent as the NBA with regard to global impact or national consciousness in 2017, but the beautiful T-Mobile Arena now exists as what appears to be a perfect home for an NBA team as well.
There is very little reason to believe that professional basketball wouldn’t work in Las Vegas in 2017, yet there is almost certainly a segment of the population, both in the city and otherwise, that would fight against it based on transgressions from a decade ago. It is bizarre to reflect on that now-infamous stretch of time for a number of reasons, but to some degree, there were highs and lows in the same way that many sprawling, massive events provide.
The NBA All-Star Game may never return to Las Vegas or any other non-NBA city, but it happened a decade ago. Much like other things associated with Vegas, it was a spectacle that no fan of the league will soon forget.